District of Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell said he was ready to lead a delegation to Victoria after an exchange between Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar and Forest Minister Doug Donaldson in the B.C. Legislature last week, but now hopes he doesn’t have to.
During the exchange, which took place during question period on Feb. 18, Milobar prodded Donaldson on his inaction regarding the tenure transfer of the Canfor Vavenby mill to Interfor, a move that needs to be approved by the minister under Bill 22, to ensure it’s in the public interest.
Donaldson said the lack of movement on the situation was because he had yet to see the proposal from either Canfor or Interfor.
Both Milobar and Blackwell felt this response was inadequate, as the Canfor Vavenby mill shutdown nine months ago — resulting in the loss of 172 jobs — and that should have been enough time for the ministry to take a proactive approach and find out where both companies stand.
However, Blackwell said Donaldson has since stated the ministry is working on a timeline for a decision after comments he and Milobar made on the topic were covered in various media, detailing their frustrations.
“This has been picked up pretty far and wide, but I’ll tell you right now, I’ll still go (to the Legislature) if I think it’s going to do us any good. I’ll drive down there myself if the minister backtracks on the statements he’s made about having a timeline that seems doable,” said Blackwell, noting several other Clearwater councillors agreed they’d also accompany a delegation should one head to Victoria.
“But at this time I think we’ve made progress with what has happened in the last couple days, with pressure from our MLA and pressure though multiple sources of media.”
Blackwell said what annoyed him most about the question period exchange was Donaldson’s answer to Milobar’s follow-up question, which was, “When will this minister actually take some action?”
Donaldson essentially answered by blaming the core of the Interior forest industry’s downturn on poor governance by the previous provincial Liberal government, which Blackwell said was in bad taste.
He added the response was disrespectful to those who’ve been struggling since the Vavenby mill closed, which include the loggers, contractors, their employees, and all the outside forestry workers who have been significantly affected.
“The reply was basically a standard, ‘Liberals have had this file for 17 years and did nothing …,’” said Blackwell.
“I do understand that’s a fairly standard question period back and forth, but that also was incredibly disrespectful to the people of the North Thompson who are living this right now. These are human beings. If you want to play sport with something, or you want to have a back and forth argument about the history of politics in B.C., don’t do it with human beings, and that’s what really got to me about that exchange.”
He admitted he does have some sympathy for Donaldson as both he and the minister were elected to office about the same time, and as much as both politicians knew the risks of the job, nothing can prepare a person to be the one in charge when such precarious economic times happen.
That being said, despite the demands of the position, Blackwell added both he and Donaldson have to live up to their responsibilities.
“I totally feel the pressure of being put into a position that’s basically untenable at this point, and you’re not going to come out of this with all of your hair not going grey or white, or even the same human being you were going into it, it’s just not going to happen,” said Blackwell.
“But bottom line, he signed up for it and as bad and nasty as it gets, we have a job to do.”